Your organisation may have a defined project initiation process for selecting and starting projects, but more often than not many clients take a surprisingly ad hoc approach. This article shares some simple steps and practical recommendations to help you start a project and do it successfully in this crucial point of the project lifecycle.

Don’t be hasty

There must be a solid reason why any project is identified, selected and initiated. It should not be on the whim or fancy of a Director.

That bright idea that brings him or her rushing into the office is all very well, but let’s perform some analysis on the value of doing that project as opposed to something else (or nothing).

Prepare a Business Case

A business case doesn’t need to be some lengthy financially complex document but should look at the direct cost of the project and compare it to the forecast benefit.

How long will it take before the return on investment is realised? If a project costs £100k and takes 1 year but gives an annual cost saving of £50k, then it has a payback period of 3 years, i.e. 3 years from starting the project the organisation will start receiving the true net benefit.

Only a few projects should exist outside a simple cost/benefit assessment and these include projects that ensure legal compliance or adherence to corporate standards.

Is there a list of possible projects that the organisation, or someone in the organisation, would like to kick-start? I suspect there are a number of bright ideas floating around and it is best to get them all on the table at the same time, preferably as part of a budget review. Understand what funding is available and then assign it to those projects that represent the best cost/benefit – simple!

Once the projects are selected it is worth pointing out that the Business Case must be reviewed periodically, particularly if significant changes (variations) are likely. Would the change invalidate the Business Case? Should the project be cancelled and another, more beneficial project started?

What’s the process to start a project?

Every project should be given a fanfare start. Resources must be galvanised into action and visible sponsorship from senior management must be seen & heard.

A project kickoff meeting following a clear agenda is a good way to start things off on the right foot.

Remember that roles and responsibilities within the organisational day-to-day might be clear cut, but the roles & responsibilities on the project must be defined and agreed. Make sure that a named individual is responsible for delivering each piece of work, each element of the scope.

Defining the Scope of the Project

This is the most important part of any project. Project scope creep is the number 1 reason why projects fail, so don’t let it happen to you! Much of the early definition work can be helped through the use of the well respected brown paper and stick note exercise.

Wellingtone uses this as part of their Introduction to Project Management training courses and delegates gain a great deal of value from understanding this simple technique.

Use Sticky Notes to Plan

Write out the key deliverables, the “things” to be created as part of the project onto individual sticky notes.

This set of sticky notes should define the scope of the project. Do think in terms of products or deliverables, so for example, writing a document is not a deliverable, but having a complete or approved written document is.

  • It is often useful to think in the past tense “document written”, “wall built”, “negotiations complete”, “testing approved” when writing out the sticky notes.
  • Once you have a good list, start sticking them on the brown paper in a logical order.
  • As they are sticky notes you can obviously move things around until everyone is happy with the flow.
  • Now draw links between them to show dependencies.
  • It is often most useful to look at each sticky independently and ask the question, “what do I need to start this work” – this will enable you to deduce predecessors.
  • Once you have defined this high-level road map through the project life cycle you have a great frame of reference:
  • Team members can be assigned responsibility for the delivery of each sticky.
  • They can then prepare a deliverable definition document explaining exactly what is to be produced, to what level of quality, by who, when and what is the agreed handover/completion criteria.

Finally, Start the Project Planning

You can use sticky notes to help frame a project risk workshop. Rather than everyone staring into space trying to think up potential risks, go through each sticky systematically listing the risks associated with each deliverable.

Use the list of deliverables to help create a high-level cost forecast or resource plan. Again, it provides a systematic framework that ensures you don’t miss anything when looking at cost or resource.

We recommend that in most instances the brown paper and sticky note exercise forms a key part of the project kick-start meeting. Providing, of course, you are kick-starting the right project!

Next Steps

If you’re about to launch a project and would like some support, our tailored project kickoff, recovery and lessons learnt consultancy can help you.

Engage us to run focused & practical workshops, undertake an assessment as your critical friend and provide real-world guidance, learnings and advice. We work with your project team, sponsor and stakeholders tailoring our approach to align with your exact needs and current PPM maturity. Get in touch for more information.